Charged particles move at very high speeds along spiraling paths, guided by magnetic forces.
Dust that formed from the star may eventually become part of a new star or planet.
The cloud of hot gas blown out from the star is still expanding outward.
Stars outside the nebula are made of atoms created and expelled by earlier generations of stars.
Particles caught in the magnetic field of the dead star's core (a small, dense, spinning ball of neutrons) shine in X-rays.
A composite image of visible and invisible light shows the remains of a star nearly 1,000 years after it exploded.
Star Death: Crab Nebula
Many of the atoms in your body formed billions of years ago, inside an aging star.
Some stars die slowly, giving off puffs of gas and dust before collapsing to form small white dwarf stars. Much larger stars die suddenly in powerful explosions known as supernovas, blasting gas, dust, and energy out in all directions as they collapse to form tiny neutron stars or black holes. The gas and dust expelled by dying stars eventually combines with the remains of others to form new stars, planets, and moons.
The Crab Nebula is a supernova remnant: the remains of a star whose life ended in a supernova explosion. Observing the different types of light given off by supernova remnants like the Crab Nebula allows us to better understand what happens to massive stars at the end of their lives; to understand what has happened to the matter and energy that made up the star; and better understand where the planets, moons, rock, water, soil—and living things—originally come from.
Quick Facts: Crab Nebula
Also known as:
Messier 1 (M1)
Type of object:
Distance from Earth:
Approximately 10 light-years across
Location in the sky:
Location in the universe:
Milky Way Galaxy, outside the Solar System
Did you know:
The bright light from the supernova explosion that formed the Crab Nebula was observed by Chinese, Japanese, and Arab astronomers in 1054 A.D. The light has since faded and the Crab Nebula is no longer visible without a telescope.
Explore More About Star Death
Find out more with these additional resources from NASA’s Universe of Learning
Credits: Crab Nebula
Radio image of the Crab Nebula from the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA): NRAO/AUI/NSF
Infrared image of the Crab Nebula from the Spitzer Space Telescope: JPL/Caltech
Visible light image of the Crab Nebula from the Hubble Space Telescope: NASA, ESA/Hubble
Ultraviolet light image of the Crab Nebula from the XMM-Newton space telescope: ESA
X-ray light image of the Crab Nebula from the Chandra X-ray Observatory: NASA, Chandra/SAO
Multi-wavelength image of the Crab Nebula (radio, infrared, visible, ultraviolet, X-ray): NASA, ESA, G. Dubner (IAFE, CONICET-University of Buenos Aires) et al.; A. Loll et al.; T. Temim et al.; F. Seward et al.; VLA/NRAO/AUI/NSF; Chandra/SAO; Spitzer/JPL-Caltech; XMM-Newton/ESA; and Hubble/STScI
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Subject-matter expertise provided by Dr. Tea Temim, Dr. Bill Blair, Dr. Brandon Lawton